Working with gluten free flours affords the bold cook a fabulous opportunity to play with a seemingly endless variety of combinations that can yield sensational results. However, due to the lack of gluten, it can be challenging to achieve the right structure, texture, kneadability and rise, that comes so easily with wheat gluten.
But what gluten free flours lack in form and function, they make up for in nutritional density, that enable cooks to enrich recipes with a lot more goodness than their often nutritionally barren wheat-filled counterparts.
Becoming familiar with these flour combining techniques takes some knowledge, experience and practice. If you are following dedicated gluten free recipes it is much easier, as you are benefiting from someone else’s experience. However, if you are modifying traditional wheat-inspired recipes, be brave, prepared to experiment, embrace a little bit of trial and error, and you will yield results that can be sublime.
Commercial gluten free flour mixes have made this exercise a lot less arduous and frustrating. There are some wonderful convenience products available at health food stores and grocery stores that are very easy to work with. But most proprietary mixes are very similar, relying heavily on rice flour, potato starch, cornflour and tapioca.
I prefer to have the many other, more interesting, and nutritionally dense flours in my repertoire. So I opt for mixing my own, so I can adapt the mix depending on the recipe, and in the interests of maintaining a balanced diet, this strikes the best balance for me. It is a little bit more time consuming, but a lot more interesting.
Here is some general information about the most common gluten free flours I work with, and some basic tips and hints that I have learnt through trial and error. The biggest tip I can give you is to combine fibrous and starchy flours together. Rachel Van Den Bosch taught me most of what I know - that a few different flours in combination create the best texture.
I used to use xanthan gum in my gluten free baked goods to replace the structural function of gluten, and help give elasticity and rise to gluten free baked goods. I know use guar gum due to the toxicity of xanthan. Please read my notes about this. You will also want to keep some gluten free baking powder, baking soda, and Celtic sea salt on hand. Binding can also be an issue with gluten free baking. For those of you who do not have egg allergies an extra egg or egg white tends to work a treat when modifying or creating a new mix. Typically gluten free flours tend to absorb a lot more moisture than wheat flours, so a bit more liquid might also be needed.
I always store all of my flours in glass jars in the fridge to prolong the shelf-life and preserve the delicate oils that can be prone to rancidity. Some of these flours need to be used within a matter of months after opening. Try to purchase as fresh as possible from busy health food stores with a high turn over. The other option is to grind your own flours and use them immediately. These flours are more expensive than wheat flours, especially the nut flours, that are very expensive. T
here are some fantastic online sources where you can buy in bulk to save some money when purchasing gluten free supplies. You could share with a friend or you can freeze most flours. But make sure your flours are stored in air-tight containers that do not allow any moisture in; and fully defrost them and bring them to room temperature before using, or you might have some consistency issues!
Unlike blanched almond flour which is extremely fine, almond meal is made by grinding whole or blanched almonds, and has a grittier texture than wheat flour that is similar to cornmeal. Almond meal is often one of the principle ingredients (along with hazelnut meal) in flourless cakes and other gluten free baked goods. It also makes delicious marzipan and almond paste.
Almond meal is low on the glycemic index, and adds a gorgeous nutty flavour that just seems to work with most combinations! If you want to heighten the almond flavour, add a splash of almond essence.
With almond meal you will generally need to add in more eggs in order to give the batter a bit more structure for leavening. It will also yield a slightly denser finished product. Because almond meal is just ground whole almonds, it has the same nutritional profile, being high in protein and Vitamin E, as well as manganese and potassium.
Purchase almond meal in bulk online and freeze for greater preservation. Or purchase from a health food store with a high turn over to ensure maximum freshness. Store in a sealed glass container in the fridge or freezer. Alternatively, some gourmet coffee stores have dedicated grinders, and will grind up fresh almond, chestnut or hazelnut meal on request.
You can make your own almond meal by using your food processor or your high speed blender. I use the dry carriage of my blender. If you're grinding in the blender, just make sure to use the pulse setting just a few times, or you will quickly blend up raw almond butter!
Amaranth flour is a nutritionally dense gluten free brownish flour with a mild sweet nutty flavour that is malt-like. It yields the best results when mixed with other flours. It is nutrient rich, with three times more fibre, and fives times more iron than wheat flour. It also contains calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C; and adds a lovely grainy texture to baked goods.
Amaranth flour is rich in iron and high in protein; and is a fibrous flour with a slightly sticky texture. Don’t use a straight 1:1 substitution, as your final product will be bland, and as hard as a rock! As a general rule – one part amaranth flour, and 3 parts other flours has worked well for me. Amaranth works well if combined with rice flour, arrowroot, tapioca flour, quinoa flour, oat flour, corn flour, potato starch and soy flour.
Amaranth flour works well in baked recipes that utilize strong flavours like chocolate, nuts, coconut and spices. It also makes a beautiful gluten free pancake batter when mixed with tapioca, arrowroot and almond flour; and is great for gluten free flatbreads when mixed with arrowroot. As with all gluten free flours, if you want to get a rise out this flour, you will need to add ½ tsp baking soda for every cup of amaranth flour and ½ tsp Celtic sea salt. Depending on the recipe, you could also add in a little xanthan and gluten free baking powder. Amaranth flour has a nutritional density that requires it to be stored in a sealed glass container in the fridge.
Arrowroot is a gluten free starch thickener made from the root stalks of this tropical plant. Look for 100% pure arrowroot. Not the kind that has been mixed with potato starch. Arrowroot is sold in sealed tins or packages, and is a light white powder that looks and feels like cornstarch. But arrowroot has no odour until it is cooked.
What makes this my gluten free thickener of choice, (as opposed to cornflour, potato starch or kuzu) is the neutral flavour that makes it great for use in mild-flavoured, heat-sensitive liquids. It is incredibly versatile, and can be used at low temperatures, and can withstand acidic liquids and long cooking times. It is really easily digested and doesn’t have that chalky taste that is so common with cornstarch. Another added benefit over cornstarch, is that sauces thickened with arrowroot freeze really well. I use it to thicken sauces and pie fillings.
To use it -- just mix the desired amount of arrowroot in an equal amount of filtered water. Generally, 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of arrowroot will thicken 1 cup of liquid. Obviously, you can add more or less, depending on the desired thickness. For those of you with an allergy to corn starch, arrowroot is a blessing. To substitute, use 2 teaspoons of arrowroot for every 3 teaspoons of corn starch. Whisk into the liquid at the end of the cooking process and stir to get the desired consistency. It doesn’t take very long. The liquid will continue to thicken a little once removed from the heat. Be careful not to add the arrowroot in too early, as overheating can destroy the thickening agents.
If substituting arrowroot for flour in recipes, only use half the quantity. Arrowroot is fantastic for making homemade jello and puddings. Just boil 1 tablespoon of arrowroot to every cup of fruit juice and add in fruit pieces. Sweeten, and then chill and set in cups. Store arrowroot in the fridge, and use within a couple of month, or the thickening properties will be compromised. Arrowroot can also be used in gluten free flour mixes to help lighten the texture of baked goods.
Baby Rice Cereal
Baby rice cereal is a traditional introductory food for babies. It is made from finely milled, cooked and dried rice flakes that are very easily digested. But it is not just for babies. It is a wonderful gentle food for post-operative patients or people with intestinal disorders.
It is also a really versatile ingredient that can be used effectively to make veggie burgers; help lighten the texture of gluten free breads, and bring a nice crisp finish to cookies, biscuits and pastries.
Baby rice cereal works really well as a substitute for almond meal or coconut flour for people trying to reduce the caloric profile of baked treats. But for those of you watching your blood sugar levels, please note that baby rice cereal is high on the glycemic index.
Baking soda is sometimes known as bi-carb soda, is pure sodium bicarbonate and is typically used as a leavening agent in baked goods. This means that when combined with an acid (such as lemon juice, vinegar, cocoa, molasses, maple syrup) and a liquid, it produces carbon dioxide that expands in the oven causing baked goods to rise. It is invaluable for gluten free baking. When baking flat breads and crusts you might only need to use baking soda. But if you are making cakes and breads you will usually need to add in some baking powder as well.
I typically add in ½ teaspoon of baking soda to every cup of gluten free flour. But obviously, this is only a guide, and quantities will be dependent on the other ingredients, and how much acid and moisture is in the recipe. Baking soda has a bitter taste if not counteracted by the right amount of acid and liquid, so if you add too much it will have an unpalatable effect on your final product. Also make sure you sift the baking soda with the flours, and mix through thoroughly to avoid holes in your final product. Baking soda starts reacting as soon as it is mixed into the acid and liquid, so bake immediately after mixing to achieve the best results.
Baking soda is also a powerful alkalizing agent and helps neutralize acids and break down proteins. It is also really helpful to soften and tenderize foods making them easier to work with. I will often soak dates and other fruits in a bit of water and baking soda to soften them before adding them to recipes. I will also add a pinch to homemade sauces and soups to help reduce the acidity while cooking. A pinch of baking soda added into legumes helps to soften them and reduce the gas effect!
I add a pinch of baking soda and Celtic sea salt to my filtered water when I drink it to help alkalize my body throughout the day. I also use it mixed with filtered water in place of conventional toothpaste to brush my teeth. Baking soda can be used all over the household. I mix up a paste with water to clean my kitchen. It is a gentle abrasive that is gentle enough for most surfaces, and makes an inexpensive green alternative to conventional toxic cleaners. I also add it into my laundry load to alkalize the water and boost the power of the detergent.
Baking powder is the leavening agent that is so important with traditional baking, and is a lifesaver when working with gluten free flours. You will notice that I always specify using gluten free baking powder. This is because baking powder is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and an acidifying agent (cream of tartar), and a moisture absorption or drying agent, (a starch), which is typically made out of cornstarch; but is sometimes made out of potato starch or wheat starch. Any baking powder made with potato or cornstarch is fine; and these are always clearly labelled as gluten free. But be careful of any that may contain wheat starch. There are a lot of gluten free baking powders available. But I always purchase brands that are aluminum-free.
You will also see baking powder labelled as “single-acting” or “double acting”. Single acting baking powder is activated by moisture and reacts as soon as you mix it in. So place your gluten free baked goods in the oven immediately to achieve the best rise. Double-acting baking powders react in two phases with moisture and heat; and are great for use in gluten free doughs that begin expanding at room temperature, and then continue rising in the oven. Most baking powders are double-acting these days, making them easier to work with. It just means you can wait a little while (about 20 minutes) before baking and you won’t lose your leavening magic! In order to get the most out of this “double rise” effect with gluten free flours it is really helpful if all of the ingredients are at room temperature.
Just with traditional baking, not all recipes require baking powder. I often just use baking soda for baked goods like gluten free cookies and flat breads. But I will more often than not, include a teaspoon of gluten free baking powder along with 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of gluten free flour used in recipes where I need to get a good rise. 1/2 teaspoon or 1 teaspoon of xanthan and a pinch of Celtic sea salt, and you have a blend that is a good start for most cakes and muffins.
Obviously, the quantity of baking powder will vary depending on the other ingredients in the recipe. Baking powder has a neutral flavour when added in the right quantities. However, you get a bitter taste if you add in too much. Too much baking powder can also cause batters to rise too rapidly (the air bubbles expand too much and then collapse), resulting in gluten free cakes that sink in the centre and crumble. Too little baking powder results in a dense cake that lacks spring.
The other thing to take into account is the addition of acids. Acids heighten the power of baking powder. For recipes containing a lot of lemon juice, for example, you can decrease the amount of baking powder by half. Always sift your baking powder with your flours and mix thoroughly to ensure uniformity throughout your batter to avoid holes in your final product.
Store baking powder in a cool dark place in the pantry and replace every 6-12 months.
To make your own home made baking powder: mix ¼ teaspoon of baking soda with 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar. This is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of commercial baking powder and is helpful if you run out!
Buckwheat flour comes in light, medium and dark varieties. Dark buckwheat flour contains some of the hull, and has a robust earthy flavour. This is wonderful for enriching pancake and crepe batters. Whereas the light flour is milder and more neutral, and is more suitable for using in gluten free flour mixes for cakes, muffins, cookies, biscuits and breads. Buckwheat flour can be used to thicken sauces and stews. But I prefer to use arrowroot.
Buckwheat is a nutritionally dense, gluten free alternative to white starchy flours. It is high in fibre, protein (containing all 8 essential amino acids), Vitamin B, magnesium and manganese, just to name a few. It has a greyish colour, a strong flavour, and a gritty texture. I usually mix it with other flours and use buckwheat flour for ¼ or 1/3 of my baking mix. This tends to yield the best results in cakes, breads, and muffins. Straight buckwheat tends to yield a product with a bitter after taste.
Always purchase buckwheat flours from a store with a high product turn over to ensure maximum freshness. Be careful that there is no moisture, and the flour has been stored in the fridge. Buckwheat flour will only keep for a few months and then it will go rancid. For those of you with food allergies, please be aware that buckwheat is often mixed with wheat, or processed in facilities that handle wheat. Please be sure to purchase 100% buckwheat with a gluten free accreditation.
I tend to use buckwheat flour for savoury baked goods. It is fantastic for making Indian Pakoras. You can easily make buckwheat flour by grinding buckwheat groats in your food processor, the grain mill attachment on your stand mixer, or in the dry carriage of your blender.
Chestnut flour is a delicious gluten free flour made from ground chestnuts, and is typically used in Italian desserts. Like other nut flours, it can be ground to a variety of consistencies. Typically, you will find chestnut flour that is stone ground (course) or fine.
Chestnut flour has a mild, slightly sweet flavour and a greyish tan tint that blends beautifully with chocolate, hazelnuts, almonds and coffee; and as fabulous as they are, makes an interesting departure from the ubiquitous almond and hazelnut meals that dominate in flourless cakes. Having said that, it is a lot more versatile, working really well in combination with starchy flours like white rice, potato, corn and tapioca flour.
Chestnut flour makes a wonderful addition to baked goods. Chestnut flour, in contrast to other nut meals, contains very little fat and oil, and is cholesterol free. Because chestnuts are high in complex carbohydrates, they have a low glycemic index, making them an even better addition to sweet treats. And even though they are relatively low in protein; it is good quality protein, similar to that found in eggs, and is easily assimilated by the body.
Purchase chestnut meal from a health food store with a high turn over to ensure maximum freshness. Alternatively, some gourmet coffee stores have dedicated grinders, and will grind up fresh chestnut, almond or hazelnut meal on request. There is nothing better!
For some fantastic recipes utilizing chestnuts, head to Chestnuts Online. Please note, that when using chestnut flour, you will usually need to add more eggs to provide a bit more structure to leaven and bind gluten free goods. Don’t confuse this flour with water-chestnut flour, which is a powdery starch that is typically used as a substitute for cornstarch to thicken Asian recipes or to coat fried foods.
Coconut flour is a delicious gluten free flour that is made from the ground meat of organic coconuts. It has the highest fibre content of any flour (even soy flour); the lowest amount of digestible carbohydrates of any flour; and is a decent source of protein. The indigestible carbohydrates in coconut flour (carbohydrates that are mainly composed of fibre and are not absorbed by the body) are actually beneficial to health. Like all natural coconut products, the indigestible carbohydrate in the form of fibre in coconut flour has extraordinary health benefits -- from aiding digestion, to regulating blood sugar levels, to preventing heart disease and cancer.
There are two ways of making coconut flour. The “fresh-dry” process, where the coconut oil is extracted from the grated dried coconut meat, which produces a product with an approximate fibre content of 40%; and the “wet” processing method, where the coconut milk is extracted from wet grated coconut meat, and then dried, resulting in a product with less fat and protein, which yields a product of about 60% fibre content. I prefer the dry process, which produces a coconut flour with a more balanced nutritional profile. You can use either. But just note that quantities in some recipes might need to be tweaked to allow for the slightly different personalities of these flours.
Coconut flour can lower the glycemic index of other foods when combined in recipes. So it makes a fantastic low-carb, high-fibre substitute in sweet baked goods for diabetics or people watching their sugar intake.
Coconut flour has a similar consistency to wheat flour, but does not work with a straight 1:1 substitution in conventional recipes. For substituting, it works much better as about ¼ of a gluten free flour mix. You can use coconut flour on its own to bake up delicious gluten free baked goods. But you need a lot of eggs to make coconut flour replicate more traditional flours. I have found, as a general rule, that you need about 3 eggs per ½ cup of coconut flour. I have not used egg replacers with dedicated coconut flour recipes, (seeing as you need to use a lot of eggs. I don’t see the point).
Coconut flour is highly absorbant and lighter than almond flour, so other ingredient ratios are different as well. I have found that if you add ½ cup of coconut oil, grapeseed oil, butter or apple sauce to every ½ cup of coconut flour, you can achieve a decent balance. The good news is that you don’t need to add milks. Just add in your flavourings such as chocolate, carrots or fruit, and your sweetener (about ½ cup). For leavening, try adding 1/2 tsp of Celtic sea salt and 1/2 tsp baking soda for every ½ cup coconut flour, and you should have a decent start.
Some recipes benefit from a bit more of a coconut boost. So you could add in ½ cup of shredded coconut. You will bake most coconut goods at a slightly higher temperature than normal at about 180 C/350 to 200 C 400 F.
There are a ton of fantastic free coconut flour recipes on the internet. Give them a go. They are delicious! Some of my favourites come from Elana's Pantry and Tropical Traditions.
There are two main types of cornflour -- white cornflour (corn starch or maize starch) and yellow cornflour (fine cornmeal). Both are fantastically useful for gluten free cooking, and are inexpensive and widely available. You need to note the origin of the recipe in order to determine which cornflour is appropriate. For example, in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, the terms cornflour and cornstarch are used interchangably. Similarly, yellow cornflour is referred to as polenta.
White cornflour or corn starch, is the white powdery starch of the corn (maize) which is milled from the endosperm part of the corn kernel. This starch is widely used as a thickening agent. But it does not work very well with prolonged heating or extremely acidic conditions.
To use, just dissolve the required amount in double the amount of cold liquid, and then add to any warm liquid to be thickened. The liquid will turn a whitish colour initially, but just bring to the boil and keep stirring, and it will blend in. I don’t like the chalky flavour of white cornflour and prefer to use the more neutral arrowroot as a thickener. But I find it incredibly useful as a binding and releasing agent when combined with other more fibrous flours in doughs and baked goods.
I also love to use it to make batters in Japanese dishes like agedashi tofu and tempura. Just note that anything thickened with cornstarch will not withstand freezing. When defrosted, things turn into a spongy mess.
Yellow Cornflour or Cornmeal (Polenta)
Yellow cornmeal is either the steel or stone ground meal of dried corn. It is ground to fine, medium and course consistencies. All can be used for gluten free baking, depending on the needs of the recipe. I tend to mainly use fine and course varieties in most blends; and I prefer the stone ground variety (which has a little bit more flavour and contains some of the hull and germ making it a more nutritious) for enriching recipes and eating as a grain for main meals. This variety is best stored in the fridge in a sealed glass jar.
Yellow cornmeal is used widely in a lot of different cuisines to coat, crumb and top; as well as being the key ingredient in cornbread and tortillas. I find it adds a fantastic gritty texture that adds a sustaining bite to savoury baked goods. I don’t tend to use blue and white cornmeal. White cornmeal is more commonly used in African cuisine, and I have never used blue corn. I love baked blue corn chips. But that is far as I have ventured.
Cornmeal has antifungal properties; and soaking your feet in a cornmeal mixture can help get rid of athlete’s foot. Horticultural cornmeal is also used as an anti-fungal fertilizer.
Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar is the common name for potassium hydrogen tartrate, which is an acidic salt commonly used to improve the quality of baked goods. It is a fine white powder that is ground from the tartaric acid sediment that is removed and purified from inside the lining of wine barrels after the fermentation process of grapes in wine making. Cream of tartar is the acidifying agent commonly used in baking powder, and is invaluable in gluten free baking for enhancing the rise effect with gluten free flours.
If you don’t have any baking powder on hand, you can make your own by adding ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar to ¼ teaspoon baking powder, which is the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of commercial baking powder.
Cream of tartar also helps to stabilize and increase the volume of beaten egg whites. You typically add in about 1/8 teaspoon for every egg white. White vinegar also works really well for this. Cream of tartar is also a helpful homemade household cleaner if mixed into a paste. It is fantastic for removing rust stains!
Cream of tartar should be stored in a cool dark place in the pantry or fridge and will keep for years.
Garbanzo Bean Flour
There are two types of chickpea flour.
The Indian-style chickpea flour that is primarily used in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, that is actually not made from chickpeas at all; but made from chana dal, a cousin of the chickpea. It is sometimes referred to as gram flour, dal flour, pea flour, or besan.
Chickpea flour or garbanzo bean flour is made from crushing chickpeas. This variety is mainly used in parts of Italy, France and the Mediterranean; and this is the variety that is widely available in health food stors due to its versatility and delicious nutty flavour. You can find the Indian variety, which is great for batters, at Asian grocers and specialty stores.
Chickpea flour is high in carbohydrates and proteins, and has more fibre and folate than wheat flour. It has a strong flavour and distinct golden appearance. Always purchase chickpea flour made from cooked chickpeas, which are easier to digest and don’t cause as much flatulence! Purchase from a health food store with a high turn over, and store in a sealed glass container in the fridge.
This flour is so versatile, but has an extremely rich, distinct flavour, so is best used in combination with other flours in pasta and pizza doughs; as well as part of a gluten free flour mix for baked goods. You can use it on its own in wonderful savoury flat breads like socca, as well as other crusts and bases.
For a quick savoury gluten free crust: just put one cup of chickpea flour in a food processor with a little bit of Celtic sea salt, and drizzle just enough olive oil to get the consistency of bread crumbs. Knead this gluten free dough, press into a quiche dish, and add your favourite toppings.
The Indians make a natural face mask or scrub out of besan. Just mix the flour with some raw honey, rose water or olive oil, and make a paste. Leave on for about 15 minutes and then gently rub off. It is phenomenal!
Gluten Free Flour Mixes
There are a wide variety of gluten free flour mixes available at health food shops and grocery stores. Most “all purpose” blends are a mixture of rice flour, potato flour or potato starch, corn starch and tapioca flour. However, there are a wide variety of more exotic mixes available now, such as buckwheat mixes, quinoa flour and amaranth flour mixes.
Please note, that unlike the all-purpose mixes, these mixes might not be appropriate for every baking experience. For a more fail-safe experience stick to the “all-purpose” mixes.
The are two kinds available – plain (all-purpose) flour, and self-raising (or self-rising) flour. Self-raising flour is not commonly sold in America, but is widely used in Australia. It is all-purpose flour with added baking powder and salt that makes baked goods rise without the need to add anything.
I have had success modifying conventional recipes using self raising gluten free flour. But I really do prefer to mix my own gluten free flours for my specific requirements. But you can’t beat these gluten free mixes for convenience. Just keep them fresh by storing these flours in sealed glass jars in the fridge. If you use stale self-raising flour, your baked goods may fall a little flat!
Hazelnut meal is made by grinding natural or roasted hazelnuts; and along with almond meal, is one of the principle ingredients found in most flourless cakes.
Because hazelnut meal is just ground whole hazelnuts, it has the same extraordinary nutritional profile. Hazelnuts and hazelnut oil are the best sources of Vitamin E, which protects against heart disease and cancer. I remind myself of this as I am grabbing for that second or third piece of chocolate cake!
You can easily make your own hazelnut meal by roasting hazelnuts, removing the skins by rubbing them in a tea towel, and grinding them in your food processor or dry carriage of your blender. If using your blender, just use the pulse setting a few times, or you will quickly blend up hazelnut butter! Which isn't bad...
Kuzu root has a white chalky consistency that does not have a lot of taste, but when mixed with a little bit of water, makes a fantastic gluten free thickener similar to arrowroot. Kuzu is also loaded with minerals and protein to enrich dishes, and has a wide variety of uses as a powerful medicinal herb.
Kuzu is a vine-like leafy legume plant native to Japan and China. It was introduced to the Southern United States in the 1870’s and used to prevent soil erosion, but grew so prolifically, that after being classified as a weed in the 1950’s, has been dubbed “the vine that ate the South”. Kuzu is now causing problems for crops in the north of Australia.
But onto the magical benefits of kuzu. It is a little bit more expensive than other gluten free thickeners. But the medicinal benefits make it an invaluable part of my diet. Kuzu has been widely used as a medicinal plant in Asia to treat the effects of alcoholism, anxiety, depression, hypertension, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, diarrhoea, chronic headaches, menopause, and the list goes on and on! It contains powerful isoflavones such as daidzein, which has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties; genestien, which helps to stabilize hormone levels; and puerarin, which purports to have 100 times more antioxidant power than Vitamin E.
Kuzu root has also been known to stabilize seratonin, dopamine and GABA levels in the brain, normalizing these neurotransmitters for use with depression. Kuzu root tea also lowers blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and has been used in Asia for centuries to suppress alcohol cravings and repair alcohol damage to organs.
Kuzu is also incredibly alkalizing due to its high mineral content. I use kuzu root tea as a great elixir to counterbalance an extremely acidic meal and restore my alkalinity. It also has powerful anti-aging benefits. For those concerned with osteoporosis, kuzu also has positive effects on cell reproduction critical for bone density and new bone growth; and is great for increasing circulation, which relieves muscle pain and stiffness. This edible starchy powdered root really is a superfood, and I can’t rave enough about it.
Like all foods, consult a physician before embarking on a kuzu root binge in the hopes of curing any and every ailment. I am suggesting it mainly as a gluten free thickening agent. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share all of the other incredible benefits.
Dried kuzu can be found as a herbal supplement at health food stores in tablet and liquid form; and powdered kuzu root for use in cooking can be found at Asian grocers and health food stores. I drink it as a tea and use it to enrich and thicken fruit sauces and mixtures for pies, puddings, and cobblers; as well as soups, stews and gravy.
Kuzu root is sold in bags and looks like cube-sized chunks. You just crush the little chunks into a powder in a spice grinder and use about 3 tablespoons of powder to thicken every 2 cups of liquid. Just like cornstarch or arrowroot, mix it with equal parts of cold water to make a paste before adding to the liquid that needs to be thickened. It usually only takes a few minutes to simmer and thicken.
My favourite way to use kuzu root is to make gomadofu - sesame tofu. My all-time favourite food. The recipe is in my book.
Millet flour has been traditionally used in India to make flat breads. But is a fantastic, nutritionally dense flour for enriching other baked goods. Millet flour is loaded with iron, magnesium, potassium and Vitamin B. It is a high protein, fibre-rich flour that adds a light delicate quality to baked treats, and produces a beautiful crust on gluten free breads.
Millet flour works better in combination with starchy flours such as rice, potato, or corn flour; or other protein-rich flours such as soy flour. Millet flour also requires a binding agent like xanthan, or gluten free breads tend to be too dry and crumbly.
Millet flour has a slightly sweet taste, which is similar to sorghum flour without the bitter after taste. This flour does not have a long shelf life due to its nutritional density. It becomes rancid very quickly; and really needs to be stored in the fridge in a sealed glass jar. It really is best to grind the flour from the grain right before use. For those of us who don’t have time to do that – just try and purchase fresh from a health food store with a high turn over.
For those of you with thyroid disorders such as hypothyriodism, please be aware that millet flour has been shown to have an impact on healthy thyroid activity and should be eaten in moderation or avoided.
Oat flour is typically made from grinding whole oats, which retains the nutritional density, resulting in a flour that is full of fibre and goodness. If you are a celiac or have a serious sensitivity or allergy to gluten, you will need to make sure you purchase oat flour that has the gluten free accreditation, due to the high risk of cross contamination.
Oat flour is not particularly impressive on its own. It finds it hard to keep it together and rise to the occasion, and tends to become a crumbly mess. But in combination with other flours, it works up a treat; and is fantastic at bringing a moist, chewy, slightly crunchy texture to baked goods. Mix oat flour into your wet ingredients gently, so as not to overwork the flour and destroy the carbon dioxide and oxygen; and place your batter in the oven as quickly as possible to get the most rise.
Oats contain a natural preservative, and can increase the shelf life of gluten free breads, not to mention adding a lovely rich nutty flavour and satisfying density. Oats are subject to rancidity, due to their dense nutritional profile. So always purchase oats and oat flour from a health food store with a high turn over, store in the fridge in a sealed glass container, and use in good time. Oat flour freezes quite well; which is good way of preserving it.
You can make your own oat flour by grinding oats in your food processor, mill attachment of your stand mixer; or in the dry carriage of your blender.
Potato flour is made by grinding whole potato flakes made from whole cooked, mashed potatoes that have been dried in a special drum. Potato flour contains some of the fibres of the whole potato, and is slightly heavier than potato starch, with a brownish tint and a slight potato flavour.
Potato flour is a fantastic gluten free binding agent that brings a density and moistness to baked goods when combined with other gluten free flours such as rice and soy flour. Potato flour is traditionally used in Jewish goods made during Passover, when grains are not eaten.
Always store potato flour in a sealed glass container in the fridge away from any moisture; and use within 6 months.
Potato starch is made from grinding potato tubers that have been washed to remove the fibre and protein to separate the starch, and then refined again. Potato starch is a stark white powder that looks similar to cornstarch. It has a neutral smell and taste, and is great for use as a gluten free thickening agent.
Potato starch has little nutritional value, but it makes a fantastic addition to gluten free flour mixes and is one of the most common ingredients found in most commercial all-purpose baking mixes.
Quinoa flour is a nutritionally dense gluten free flour that is phenomenal for enriching baked goods. It comes in two varieties -- milled (course) and unmilled (fine). Both yield a flour that is smooth and creamy yellow in colour, but the latter is obviously more nutritious. Quinoa flour, like the grain, is full of fibre and loaded with protein (about 17%). It is not really great used on its own, as it tends to yield a product that is heavy and gluggy, with a bitter after taste. The flavour of quinoa flour is actually quite mild and slightly nutty. But you will yield the best results with your gluten free baking if you combine with other flours such as sorghum, tapioca and potato starch to make nutritious baked goods, crackers, and tortillas. Those of you with celiac disease or serious gluten sensitivities, will need to look for quinoa flour that has the gluten free accreditation; as quinoa flour is sometimes processed in facilities that handle wheat, and can be subject to cross contamination. Quinoa flour has a high fat content and is subject to rancidity, so should always be stored in a glass container in the fridge and used within about 3 months. Try to purchase quinoa flour from a grocery shop with a high turnover that stores their flours in the fridge.
Rice flour is typically sold in three varieties in the Western world -- white, brown and sweet rice flour.
White rice flour is made by grinding hulled or refined polished rice kernals; and just like the grain, has a mild, bland flavour, with some protein, but not much more nutritional value, seeing as the brand and the germ have been removed. But despite its nutritional deficiencies, it remains a mainstay in my kitchen.
Rice flour is just so versatile; and is the most fail-safe way to modify a conventional recipe using wheat flour. Rice flour is fantastic for use in gluten free recipes that require a light texture, and is fantastic for rolling out dough and for making gluten free batters, dumplings, and noodles. Rice flour is one of the most common ingredients found in most commercial all-purpose flour mixes.
If I am just using white rice flour for allergy free baking, I tend to combine with brown rice flour to give it a little more weight, depth, and flavour. Just be mindful -- when substituting rice flours for wheat flour in conventional recipes, rice flour is more absorbant. You might need to add a little more moisture or liquid ingredients in order to more closely replicate the consistency of the original recipe.
Sweet rice flour is made from high-starch, short grain rice, and has traditionally been used in Asian desserts. This variety is excellent to bake with, but will still benefit from the support of some other gluten free flours, and the addition of a binding agent such as xanthan. Rice flour is also great thickening agent for sauces.
Brown rice flour, like the grain, is ground from unhulled or unpolished rice. As a result, it is heavier, with a grainier texture, and a darker, brownish colour. Because some of the rice bran is retained, it has more nutrients and essential oils than its white counterpart, and a lot more fibre. Brown rice flour has a strong nutty flavour that is not always appropriate in large amounts. If you use brown rice on its own, it can make the texture a bit too heavy and gritty. I tend to mix equal parts of brown and white rice flours in baking mixes, and that tends to strike a nice balance. For those of you who are celiac please note that some rice flour is processed in facilities that also handle wheat. So look for the gluten free accreditation.
Even though rice flour is not as nutritionally dense as some other gluten free flours I have listed, I still use it for several reasons: rice flour is tolerated by most people with food allergies, it is relatively inexpensive and widely accessible making the recipes more accessible, and is dead easy to work with which helps to instill confidence in cooks new to allergy free cooking.
Sorghum flour is pronounced “sor-jum” is ground from the sorghum grain, which is similar to millet, and is a staple in Africa and India; and one of the top five cereal crops in the world. Sorghum flour is typically used to make flat unleavened breads and a porridge-like meal.
This gluten free flour is bit harder to source than the other flours. You can find it at some health food stores (or they will order it in); or look for it at specialty stores or Indian grocers. It is also known as “jowar” or “juwar”. But I do use it, as a highly nutritious addition to baked goods.
Sorghum flour is a high fibrous flour that is also rich in iron and protein. Sorghum flour has a creamy white or yellow tint, with a fairly neutral flavour, that is slightly sweet. But if you use too much in baked goods it can yield a product with a slightly bitter aftertaste and dry, crumbly texture. It fairs best when combined with other starchy flours such as potato and rice flour; and makes beautiful rich gluten free bread when combined with bean flours such as fava or chickpea flour.
Some other tips when working with sorghum flour, is to add ½ teaspoon of corn starch for every cup of sorghum flour; ¼ more baking powder or baking soda; and add in a little more liquid (about 1/ more) or an extra egg for added moisture and leavening in baked goods like muffins. For breads, add one whole teaspoon of cornstarch and the same amount of liquid.
Soy flour is a high protein gluten free flour with a yellowish colour and strong nutty flavour that is made by grinding soy beans. Soy flour is also rich in calcium, iron and Vitamin B. It is typically available in two varieties – natural and defatted. Natural soy flour contains all of the fats and oils of the original bean. Whereas, defatted soy flour has had the oils removed, yielding a product with a highly concentrated protein content. But both varieties give a protein boost and add moisture and a nutty flavour to gluten free baked goods.
However, if you use soy flour on its own it is incredibly pungent and overpowering. I find it is best used in combination with starchy flours such as rice and potato flour. Don’t be alarmed if you taste the batter and it is really bitter and smelly. That cooks away, and the final product is delicious. But too much soy flour will yield a bitter product that is not particularly palatable. You will also need to adjust the oven temperature or shorten the baking time in order to avoid overbrowning and burning.
Soy flour has a high fat content, and so is subject to rancidity. Always purchase from a health food store with a high turn over, store in a sealed glass container in the fridge, and use in good time. Soy flour can be used as an egg substitute to add moisture to allergy free recipes. Just use 1 tablespoon of soy flour and 1 tablespoon of filtered water for every standard egg.
Tapioca flour is made from the dried and powdered root of the cassava, or other species native to the Amazon. It is one of the most versatile gluten free flours -- perfect for making and thickening puddings and pie fillings instead of arrowroot (they are often labelled as the same thing); and making baked goods.
Tapioca flour has a light, soft white texture similar to cornflour, that helps to bind baked goods and give them a chewy texture; but really needs to be combined with other flours such as potato starch and rice flour in order to yield results that most closely resemble traditional wheat-based baked goods. Tapioca flour is one of the most common ingredients found in most commercial gluten free flour mixes, and is fantastic for use in gluten free baked goods.
I will use it a lot and add it to gluten free pancake mixes to make the pancakes lighter.
Xanthan (pronounced zan-theen) is made by fermenting corn sugar with a bacteria (xanthomonas campestris), and is a common natural food additive (#415) used as a stabilizer and thickening agent in ice creams and other dairy products, in salad dressings and desserts, and in most gluten free recipes and products.
I used to use it a lot, and you will find it in many of the earlier baked recipes on the site. Xanthan gum has a fabulous way of replicating the structural function of gluten, helping to give structure, texture, rise and kneadability to gluten free batters and doughs. However, it is not always necessary to use xanthan in gluten free baking. When using nuts flours like almond, hazelnut, chestnut and coconut, finished products can hold together beautifully with some eggs and other ingredients.
When combining other flours such as potato, corn, tapioca, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, oat, rice, sorghum and garbanzo bean; xanthan is usually a welcome addition. I typically add in about ½ teaspoon of xanthan for every cup of flour. I will add 1 whole teaspoon for every cup of flour if I require a bit more elasticity for pastries and doughs; and will sometimes add up to a tablespoon for more traditional bread that requires a high-rise dough with a lot of elasticity.
But be careful with this wonder gum! A little goes a long way. You can actually feel how sticky it is when you touch it with your fingers. It feels like a gum to the touch. Use too much and you will end up with a gooey mess that tastes like rubber!
Guar gum performs the same function as xanthan, and may be preferable to you. The only problem is that it can have a laxative effect on some people. However, sinch Karen Morgan of Blackbird Bakery alerted me to the potential side effects of xanthan, I have switched to guar gum.
She says, "Xanthan gum is derived from the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris, the pathogen responsible for the black rot that devours broccoli, cauliflower and other leafy vegetables. In order to grow large quantities of xanthan gum, it is harvested in batches that are grown through the fermentation of yeast and sugar. Most batches are fed high fructose corn syrup, but others are fed wheat, soy, or dairy.
A 2011 study by Jennifer Beal with the Center for Applied Nutrition, concluded that premature babies that ingested test tube nutrition containing xanthan gum immediately developed necrotizing entercolitis, or intestinal tissue death. Premature infants have exceptionally delicate immune systems, making them far more susceptible to bacterium and toxins, and xanthan gum was no exception."
For those people with celiac disease, who have delicate instestinal tracts, xanthan gum could be a danger. I will let you decide if xanthan gum is a responsible choice for you and your family. For my money, I am not using it anymore.
Yeast is a living organism that is part of the fungus family.
Baker’s yeast comes in two varieties -- fresh and dry; and like baking soda and baking powder, acts as a leavening agent in baked goods. The yeast feeds on the sugar in the dough to produce carbon dioxide which expands and gives rise to doughs and batters. It also improves the texture and flavour of baked goods and is invaluable (although not always necessary) when baking bread.
I don’t use yeast very often in my baking. But when I do, I always use dried yeast. Dried yeast is fresh yeast that has been pressed and dried to reduce the moisture content, rendering the yeast dormant until it is mixed with a warm liquid. You can find dried yeast in “active” and “rapid-rise” yeast, which is also known as “instant” or “bread machine” yeast. Instant yeast is finer and works a lot quicker than active dried yeast. But has less flavour. I find that active dried yeast is the most effective and easiest when working with gluten free flours.
You can purchase active dried yeast in sealed tins or small vacuum-sealed foil sachets. I like to purchase the sachets to increase the shelf life and freshness. The small 7 gram / ¼ ounce / 2 ½ tsp packets can be opened as needed. The minute you expose yeast to air, it begins to deteriorate. This is why a lot of recipes call for the yeast to be mixed with a warm liquid and sugar (called proofing) in order to ensure the yeast is active before adding it to the whole dough mixture. You are looking for foaming and bubbles. If you don’t get any -- your yeast is dead. Grab another sachet! If you check the use-by date on your sachets this proofing really isn’t necessary, and you can just add the dried yeast granules into the flour mixture and then add the liquid. It is up to you how cautious you want to be. If you purchase dried yeast in a tin, make sure you store in a sealed container in the fridge away from moisture, heat and light. Please make sure the yeast is gluten free. Most brands available are gluten free, but some brands are made with wheat flour.
Almond flour is typically made by grinding blanched sweet almonds. However, the unblanched variety is available. Almond flour is a nutrient-rich gluten free flour that has a low glycemic index perfect for adding moistness to baked goods.
The beauty of this flour, unlike so many other gluten free flours, is that it bakes up splendidly on its own, and does not need to be combined with other flours. Please note, that when using almond flour, you will usually find that you need to add in more eggs in order to provide a bit more structure.
I find that blanched almond flour works best in sweet “quick bread” type recipes such as muffins, cakes, and pancakes. I don’t find it suitable for more traditional breads, as you can’t really get a dough-like consistency.
Whether you choose unblanched flour or blanched flour is a matter of personal preference. But I personally prefer the blanched variety. I was first converted to the superiority of blanched almond flour when I cooked some of the recipes posted on my favourite gluten free blog Elana’s pantry. Her recipes are absolutely delicious. Her claim to fame is her fantastic Almond Flour Cookbook, where all of the recipes utilize blanched almond flour. She claims that the finer texture gained by grinding blanched almonds yields better gluten free baking results.
Almond flour can be frozen for up to six months to assist with preservation. But it must be fully defrosted and brought to room temperature before use or you will have some consistency issues. This flour is one of the really pricy ones! Order online in bulk and freeze to save on costs.
Guar gum helps to replicate the structural function of gluten, helping to give structure, texture, rise and kneadability to gluten free batters and doughs. Guar gum is 100% natural, and is derived from the endosperm of the guar plant.
Prized for centuries for it’s healing properties, like lowering cholesterol, more recent studies have proven guar gum to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, making it a holistic tool to help cure diabetes in conjunction with diet and exercise.
Guar gum can also improve the efficacy of most prescription drugs. However, guar gum can have a laxative effect on some people, so you may want to test it out before using it too much.